B is for Better Things to Do
In my first grad school class I had to read A Glorious Dark, by AJ Swoboda. In the book he writes,
"The best advice I was ever given about seminary was that it was good to get Bs because it meant you had a life outside of it...Seminary isn't supposed to be about seminary - seminary is the place where we learn to go do the real stuff of real life with a real God in the world." (156)
This was especially affirming since Swoboda was my professor at the time.
But as someone who has made nearly straight As as long as I can remember, it’s difficult to let this sink in. It’s not because I think making a B is the end of the world. It’s because, in my own experience, making a B is often related to my decision not to do my best. It’s difficult to really let go of the need to turn in only the very best. It’s difficult to release the drive to stay up late, get up early, and forsake other things to make sure that I’m getting work done on time and I’m doing it well. It’s difficult to submit something that I don’t think will really impress my professors or classmates.
But, sometimes, there are just better things to do.
Sometimes things come up. Things that are unavoidable. Things that are important.
Sometimes there’s a holiday that calls you to stay out dancing all night. Sometimes there’s hours of conversing and fellowship that bless the soul. Sometimes the electricity is out for a few days. Sometimes you have to go to work. Sometimes you’re trying to visit friends and get back in time to turn in your assignments, but a car doesn’t pass for hours, and then gets stuck in the middle of a field for another hour. Sometimes there’s kids screaming and crying and beating one another and demanding food and peeing on the floor. Sometimes there are clothes and dishes that can’t wait any longer to be cleaned. Sometimes you just need to get away. Sometimes you just need to sleep.
And so, my grad school experience – which is happening online while I live in Mozambique – has been quite different than my other academic endeavors. Quite ironically it seems, this has been a time of accepting mediocrity in this area so that I can truly invest well in other areas. It has been a time of consistently being the last student to respond in a conversation so that I can put the people in front of me first. It has been a time of turning in in assignments late so that I can be present here. It has been a time of living out my lectures more attentively than I listen to them.
I don’t say this to justify slacking off or not doing our best. But I have come to the conclusion that maybe my professors and academic advisors and scholarship committees have been wrong about Bs. Maybe Bs do not stand for mediocrity. Perhaps Bs stand for beautiful relationships, breathtaking experiences, beckoning Sabbath, binding responsibilities, or bizarre circumstances. Perhaps Bs represent the best I can do in light of the abundant and wild and demanding life I’m discovering outside of the books I read about it.
In our efforts to prioritize and sacrifice certain items for the sake of our ideals, may we not kill ourselves to pursue success (whatever that may be), forsaking all that is truly life. May our eyes be opened to the reality that perhaps making a memory is more important than making the grade, pouring ourselves into the lives of others is more important than pouring ourselves into fast-fading agenda items, and climbing a mountain is more important than climbing the imaginary ladder to success. May we recognize that we are not machines made for working until we expire, but divine beings made for experiencing the full life of God in all of its tediousness, unexpectedness, messiness, and beauty. May we have grace with ourselves which flows from God’s grace that makes us more than our grades, our paychecks, or our (never) finished to-do lists. May we find in that grace the space to say no to some things, the space to warmly embrace other things, and the space to be imperfect in all things.
May we be divinely empowered people who accomplish great things like planting fragrant gardens, reading great books, enduring unexpected delays, loving flawed communities, seeing beautiful sights, surviving the workday, drinking the world's greatest cup of coffee, processing bad news, laughing uninhibitedly, and – perhaps every now and then – making As.